Peter Brötzmann

November 14, 2006

Atavistic ALP 257 CD

Pica Pica
Atavistic ALP 258 CD

Two more valuable CD reissues of Wuppertal, Germany-based saxophonist Peter Brötzmann’s work for FMP in the 1980s once again show his versatility. One disk offers proof positive that the hard-driving reedist can easily hold up his side in an all-star trio configuration, while the other shows how he helps spark aural fireworks in a nonet situation.

Ironically the aptly-named Alarm almost ended up being more than a fanciful “blast from the past”. This Hamburg radio gig with a multi-national cast of nine Free Jazzers had to be interrupted after the 40 odd minutes captured on the disc were recorded because a phoned-in bomb threat meant that the audience, technicians and musicians had to quickly evacuate the hall.

Lacking the extra-musical drama of the other date, Pica Pica is just as incendiary, with Brötzmann playing tenor, baritone and alto saxophones and tarogato as one part of a little-recorded trio. His front-line partner is veteran trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, then in the most experimental phase of his long career, but the real surprise is the presence of Günter “Baby” Sommer on traps set and horn. Like Han Bennink of the Netherlands –

Brotz’s usual percussion partner – Sommer is an all-around drum master. Unlike Bennink, he resides in East Berlin, on the other side of the then-existing wall, so he was just starting to interact with non-East Block players.

You couldn’t tell that from this session. Sommer’s tambourine shuddering cymbal raps, intense cross sticking and triplet flams and rattles add heaving tension to the tunes, which take on new dimensions when he releases the beat. As the trombonist and reedist bluster away on two long improvisations and the short title track, Sommer contributes blunt polyrhythms, using sticks, brushes, palms and fists to provide vivid brush strokes of aural color. The jokey and jittery “Pica, Pica” makes the greatest use of the drummer’s faux parade-drill timing. But his harsh ruffs and bulldozer-like press rolls are in evidence throughout.

Rotating among his horns like a mini-reed section Brötzmann spins from steady air raid siren glossolalia on alto to inchoate, near bagpipe-like timbres on tarogato and slurry and smeary reed undulations on baritone. His characteristic stratospheric glottal punctuation is often evident, as are his mouse-squeaking altissimo tones. Once, when he seems to be soloing on two different horns, it becomes apparent that the secondary timbres are from Sommer’s horn.

Articulating chromatic grace notes and whinnying plunger tones, Mangelsdorff’s triple-tongued slurs make common cause with the saxophonist’s staccato phrasing. Often accompanying as well as soloing, his pedal-point lilt sneaks in a common Bop riff at the end of “Wie Du Mir, So Ich Dir Noch Lange Nicht” to keep the proceedings on track as the piece downshifts to muted harmony.

Triple the brass, reed and rhythm on Pica Pica, and you approximate the cacophonous polyphony that arises during Alarm’s extended title track. Surprise at this explosion is a moot – but definitely not a mute – point when you consider the other players. The rhythm section is made up of German Free Jazz big band leader Alexander von Schlippenbach on piano plus two European-domiciled South African expatriates, bassist Harry Miller and drummer Louis Moholo. Brass was Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo – who would reunite with Brötz for the Die Like A Dog band in the 1990s – and two trombonists: modern gutbucket stylist, East German Johannes Bauer, and British trombonist Alan Tomlinson, who was also a member of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra.

Joining Brötzmann on reeds is Willem Breuker from the Netherlands, then (1981) closer to his Free Jazz roots than his later composerly stance; plus American tenor saxophonist Frank Wright, a first generation New Thinger then part of the burgeoning Yank jazzmen-in-Europe-Diaspora.

Driven by the dense and unyielding rhythm section – that in Miller’s case also encompasses shuffle-bowing tremolo and stretched sul ponticello jetes – the massed band exposes the robust theme, variations of which are utilized by the horn section as linking motifs that connect the solos. And what solos they are.

Von Schlippenbach is at his most manic, turning high-intensity pummeling into a metronomic fantasia of exaggerated note clusters and patterns. Kondo contributes half-valve squeezes and brassy slurs, while the stop-time dual trombone theatrics include guttural, spittle-encrusted blasts and metal-scraping concussive expansion.

Not that the reedists are outdone. Except for an off-kilter, a capella raggedy march – is it a mess call or a mail call? – the majority of the saxophone timbres undulate almost physically. Parlando and flutter tonguing, each of three saxmen at times gets involved in double counterpoint with an individual brass player until hyper-fast piano motifs push the tune forward. Slip-sliding, roller-coaster-like coils and twists are expressed by both horn families, as are snorting, basement-level expositions and shrill altissimo timbres. Eventually the high-level pan-tonality gives way to conclusive slurs.

While it’s difficult to isolate individual soloist, there’s no doubt that it’s Wright who sings the jivey lyrics to his own brief “Jerry Sacem”. A rhythmic blues, the undemanding melody and Moholo’s backbeat easily speed the audience outside the studio without anyone being panicked about the purported bomb threat.

Luckily this part of the concert was preserved. It, along with the other CD fills in some gaps in European Free Jazz history. But both are exhilarating listening as well.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Alarm: 1. Alarm Part 1 2. Alarm Part 2 3. Jerry Sacem

Personnel: Alarm: Toshinori Kondo (trumpet); Johannes Bauer and Alan Tomlinson (trombones); Willem Breuker (alto and tenor saxophones); Peter Brötzmann (tenor and alto saxophone); Frank Wright (tenor saxophone); Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano); Harry Miller (bass) and Louis Moholo (drums)

Track Listing: Pica: 1. Instant Tears 2. Wie Du Mir, So Ich Dir Noch Lange Nicht 3. Pica, Pica

Personnel: Pica: Albert Mangelsdorff (trombones); Peter Brötzmann (tenor, baritone and alto saxophones and tarogato) and Günter “Baby” Sommer (drums and horn)